Considering its dull, clumsy gameplay and bad writing, Jazz and Faust is a depressing reminder of why so many gamers have left adventure games behind.
In the early days of PC gaming, adventure games were one of the premier genres because they excelled at one of the greatest things a game can do: immersing players in a fantastic world. Since then, other genres like role-playing games and action games have evolved to provide more engaging experiences than ever before, but adventure games haven't changed much. Moving to a new game area often just requires a mouse click or finding the right inventory item to solve a puzzle, and puzzle-solving lies at the heart of the gameplay. Since the mechanics themselves tend to be very simple, any good adventure game these days had better feature an unforgettable setting and story, along with challenging but not frustrating puzzles, in order to compete against more sophisticated games, let alone to rise above the mediocre standards for adventure gaming. Jazz and Faust, the first US publishing effort by Russian company 1C, doesn't manage any of this. This traditional adventure game offers a few attractive scenes, but otherwise it's an exercise in tedium that will disappoint even avid adventure gamers.
Jazz and Faust lets you explore multiple lands recalling Europe during the age of sail and the Middle East of the Arabian Nights using either of the eponymous main characters. The gameworld of Jazz and Faust is presented as a series of still images, as in Myst. You get lots of pretty pictures, but you can view each largely static scene from only one fixed angle. Unlike in Myst, you do get to control an onscreen character, making him move about by clicking with the mouse. Unfortunately, the game's third-person view seems unnecessary and needlessly slows the gameplay, forcing you to watch Jazz or Faust trudge across the screen to leave for another area. No one expects or wants high-adrenaline thrills from an adventure game, but why make things slower than they need to be?
At least the game's interface is clear and intuitive. You interact with people and objects by simply hovering the mouse cursor over them and clicking. The context-sensitive cursor icon changes shape to let you know what you can do in each case, turning into a flashlight, for example, when you can examine an item in greater detail. If you then click the item in question, Jazz or Faust will utter a line or two about it. (The game is subtitled, too.) A hand icon means you can pick up an item, a compass icon means you can travel offscreen to a new area, and so forth. Inventory management is equally simple: Just right-click to view your items, clicking two arrows to scroll through them.
But offering a straightforward interface isn't much to brag about because any half-decent adventure game will offer that. There's not much to screw up, really. It's the sights and sounds, the story, and the puzzles that make or break adventure games. As for Jazz and Faust's setting, you get a mishmash fantasy world with locales reminiscent of a 17th-century Mediterranean port, a South Seas island, and medieval Persia. None of this is put together well or richly imagined--the game lacks a coherent and memorable world that you'd really want to explore. Jazz and Faust simply can't compete with the alien and unforgettable locales of last year's Myst III or the evocative scenes in the little-known but entertaining Road to India.
Jazz and Faust's lame, forgettable story fares no better, centering on a murder mystery and a buried treasure, though the game's manual inexplicably explains the mystery before you even play the game. You can play from the perspective of either Jazz or Faust, getting different challenges with each character, though the locales and weak ending are the same either way.
An almost total lack of characterization doesn't help the game, either. None of the characters, including Jazz and Faust themselves, seem real or warrant your sympathy or interest. The game's dialogue is clumsy and boring, mainly just consisting of simple instructions about what puzzle you need to solve next. Making matters worse, when you click on an object to hear it described in greater detail, Jazz or Faust will offer up painfully obvious and unimportant observations like, "Miranda's pots and pans are always beautifully clean" or "These bright flags cheer up the monotonous landscape." Who cares? Evincing stunning insight, Jazz tells us how his grandfather broke his leg and then notes, "It hurt a lot." Sometimes you'll at least get a laugh when Jazz or Faust utters a bizarre and confounding non sequitur like "Do I look like a man who pees in his pants?"